Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bela Lugosi Was a Perfumer: Strange Oriental Perfume

Bela Lugosi was renowned for the villainous characters he played in horror movies. When the actor was cast as Dracula, the consummate image of the vampire was forever inscribed in his Hungarian accent.  In "The Devil Bat" Lugosi deploys requisite mad scientist electric shocks to an ordinary bat which alters its size and turns its nocturnal disposition towards the dark side. The experiment includes another protagonist; a men's aftershave formulated with ingredients found in the Oriental category of fragrance families.

The movie begins in the laboratory of Dr. Paul Carruthers who is portrayed by Lugosi. The scientist is seen taking a satisfying whiff from a bottle. He closes his eyes, inhales and reveals a smile of satisfaction. The shot is innocuous at first, but when Lugosi saturates a piece of gauze with his fragrance and puts it under the nose of the physically altered bat, the aroma of his intentions is revealed. 

Lugosi programs the bat to smell and kill (frame 7:43) and the scene is as campy as horror films get. Dr. Carruthers speaks and the bat shrieks in response to his words, which are comically reinforced by a pair of lab tongs holding the perfumed gauze under the winged creature's nose, "You hate this strange oriental fragrance even while you sleep, just as you did before I made you big and strong. Now, if you detect the fragrance in the night, when you are finally awake you will strike; strike to kill!" 

Dr. Carruthers, an embittered cosmetics chemist, provides samples of the aftershave to unsuspecting business partners and their family members. The scheme is fueled by his sense of being taken advantage of as his creativity is the source of the company's profits. Were this a modern tale Dr. Carruthers would not give in to his murderous inclinations and instead hand in his resignation papers and open up his own perfumery boutique a la Maison Francis Kurkdjian.

Today there is no shortage of mass market fragrances capable of making humans shriek like a "devil bat." (Many of them are disguised as deodorant body sprays, the low-fi approach to cologne that is popular with adolescent boys who have a tendency to turn up the olfactory volume to the "shrill" setting.) The reference to an oriental aftershave in "The Devil Bat" is a curious one. Historically, men's aftershave formulas are modeled on Eau de Cologne from Europe which is fresh and citrus based, reflecting the "quiet perfect grooming" sentiment in Lenthéric's 1938 aftershave ad. Oriental fragrances are spicy, amber-laced and exotic.

The men's aftershave category in the U.S. was born during the Depression, the same time the oriental category in fine fragrance for women fell out of favor. This is what probably led to the "strange oriental fragrance" reference in "The Devil Bat" which was released in 1940. (Dr. Carruthers touts Tibet as the source for his "secret ingredient" and though he never reveals the ingredient by name he alludes to it's ceremonial use by lamas.) So what would Dr. Carruther's calamitous aftershave have resembled?  Francis Kurkdijan's oriental APOM pour Homme?  We may never know. "The Devil Bat" writers John T. Neville (screenplay) and George Bricker (original story) aren't exactly on speaking terms with the living now. A medium would be required for a round of Eau de Ouija Board and that would take some doing...

"The Devil Bat" is available on DVD, but is also in the public domain. If you are a perfumista it should be sitting next to your copy of the film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

Image of Bela Lugosi as Dr. Carruthers touting the formula for his evil aftershave lotion from "The Devil Bat." Rights revert back to the original owners.

Batty for fragrance? Try Lemon Scented Sticky Bat from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab which is based a blog post written by Neil Gaiman in 2007.

Thanks go out to The Glob who hosts a weekly horror movie program on public access television in Michigan. I grew up on horror movies, but somehow missed "The Devil Bat" during my formative years. The program inspired this post.

The Truth is Stranger than Fiction (or Bela Lugosi is Haunting My House): Two days after completing this post a family of bats hibernating in the eaves revealed themselves with cranky squealing and scrabbling in the ceiling of our bedroom. If you find yourself in a similar situation don't read about bat infestations before bed. Why? This is an excerpt from the Critter Control website (2012): 
"If you woke up because a bat landed on you while you were sleeping or if you awakened and found a bat in your room, you should try to safely capture the bat by bat trapping and have it tested. The same precautions should be used if you see a bat in a room with an unattended child, or see a bat near a mentally impaired or intoxicated person. The small teeth of the bat can make a bite difficult to find. Be safe and in these situations, try to safely capture the bat, have the bat tested, and seek medical advice. As always the best solution when you need help getting rid of bats and with bat trapping, would be to contact a Critter Control bat removal specialist in your area."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Adventures in Scent: Bella Des Patchouli Champa Hand Cream

There is no middle ground when it comes to how patchouli and champa affect olfactory preferences; one either loves or hates these tenacious beauties. Both ingredients flirt with the sacred and sensual. Historically, patchouli is a shapeshifter; a sign of luxury in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the aroma of hedonism in the 1960's. Champa became routed in olfactory consciousness around the same time free love took over stateside. The scent is derived from a type of incense used in ashrams and continues to appeal to many as a tool for meditation. Champa is made from a combination of plumeria, halmaddi (a tree resin that contains the psychoactive β-Carboline) and sandalwood. It is lush, floral, resinous and hypnotic. Those who love champa know it can steal you away in a curl of incense smoke faster than you can chant "om shanti om."

Desiree Watson is a classically trained biologist who started Bella Des Natural Beauty because she couldn't find skin care products that performed well on sensitive skin. She has an affinity for natural ingredients and is highly in tune with the affects of scent in skin care products, "Scent can be a barrier or an invitation. Smell is the first sense a product interacts with. Hand someone a new product and watch what they do. They almost always smell it before anything else. If someone doesn't like a product's fragrance, it doesn't matter what other fabulous ingredients are in it, they are done. I want my scents to be appealing, but not overwhelming, so almost everyone, after smelling it, will try the product on their skin."

Bella Des Patchouli Champa Hand Cream reflects Watson's exacting standards and technical prowess. It also illustrates what she does best; creating the perfect balance between formula and scent. Where does she find inspiration for her products?  "I get a lot inspiration from food. I love to cook and I love cuisine with lots of interesting flavors. My favorites are Indian, Thai and Mexican. One of the first products I invented is Virgin Coconut Hand Cream. I was cooking a lot of Thai at the time and was inspired by some of the dishes I was making. That is how lemongrass and coriander essential oils became part of the formula for Virgin Coconut Hand Cream. These scents blend perfectly with the subtle creamy coconut aroma that organic virgin coconut oil lends to the product. I also created a beauty product that is" technically" food. My Natural Sugar Body Polish in Ginger Lemon is natural, edible and it tastes really good! This one was inspired by my love of fresh ginger; I will add ginger to any dish that lends itself to the flavorful root's refreshing and spicy qualities."

For Watson, champa is part of the smellscape encountered in Indian supermarkets in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she actively seeks new sensory experiences and nurtures those close to her heart. She is as fierce a cook as she is a chemist, seeking inspiration from the ordinary to the exotic. This is how champa rekindled its love affair with patchouli in Bella Des Patchouli Champa Hand Cream. "The incense aisle at the market has always been a part of the shopping experience. For me, champa creates a backdrop against the aromas of foods and spices I discover in the store. The mixture of scents is like a perfume that tells me where I am. It's like travel; the sights the sounds, the smells, all of these things influence your memories. The memories follow me back into the lab."

There is a distinctive synergy in Bella Des Patchouli Champa Hand Cream that makes the combination of patchouli and champa instantly appealing. A warm woody quality weaves between the two raw materials and steadies the delivery of the scent. There is something refreshing in the mix that resembles a lactonic lemon note, which is where the hand cream's olfactory balance is rooted. How did patchouli get mixed in with the champa? "I can remember that my older sister, who I literally thought the sun revolved around, used to wear patchouli. I used to go into her room and smell her perfumes when she wasn't home. She really likes Bella Des Patchouli Champa Hand Cream. Perhaps I subconsciously made it for her. That's funny, I never really thought about my first encounter with patchouli."

Speaking of first encounters, be on the lookout for a Bella Des ultra rich face cream which is currently in development. The delicate scents in Ms. Watson's facial care line revolve around natural ingredients versus aromas added to camouflage chemical odors that are part of mass market moisturizers. Judging from the samples sent to Glass Petal Smoke, something scentastic this way comes...

Bella Des Natural Beauty makes rich and luxurious body products that exceed expectations when it comes to price and performance. Glass Petal Smoke recommends Patchouli Champa Hand Cream, Inspiration Foot Cream (gorgeous application of Eucalyptus citriodora and rose geranium), 100% Natural Vitamin Lip Balm (mild aroma of coconut oil, lasts and lasts), Orange Ginger Pin-up Soap (fresh citrus and shimmering ginger),  Facial Hydrating Spray (binds moisturizer to skin and refreshes), and the cream-based Facial Cleanser.

"Patchouli Has a Flashpoint of 190°," is a great piece of olfactory chic. The t-shirt is made by burninghippy.com and is available in a variety of colors/styles on Zazzle. You can view the selection by clicking here. Rights to the photograph featured in this post revert back to burninghippy.com.

A "smellscape" is a space defined by smell. The space can be a store, a landscape, a neighborhood, any place with defined boundaries. This interview with olfactory artist Sissel Tolas on Edible Geography delves into the smellscape concept. Architects are also interested in smellscapes as olfaction is a part of the landscape that relates to the planning and design of buildings.